This is an old, old poem I am revising, as I believe it still has relevance today. This does have ***FOUL LANGUAGE*** in it (I use a word in here I have never said–ever, and I don’t read this one in public for the same reason), so if you are squeamish about really nasty words, pass this one over.
I am painting over
words on a brick wall.
Old hate sprayed over cortical ridges
leaches through the best whitewashing;
You can hear the old words
in the pause before the new names
African American/means (you fill in the blank)
says challenged/means cripple
who is girl, chick, broad,
cunt on the half-shell
in the subtext.
Naming is dangerous:
men whose signs say
GOD IS LOVE
wait outside the Y
where Betty Friedan speaks,
throw dyke, witch, murderer stones
at my friend & I
who dare move through them
Should I have said something,
should I have shouted back more hate,
should I have said I love babies too,
should I have held her hand,
or should I have kissed her?
No. I can only
paint over and over
But I am one woman,
and my arms are heavy.
ugh…indicitng poem…the GOD is LOVE but they spew hate…its sad how we have twisted that message…i feel the weight on your arms in this one…we choose love the best we can in those times…even though i want to yell back at them…
Oh, me too, Brian. So much of me wants to yell back; hence the poem.
Susan. You hooked me good with this one. Nicely done.
I want to yell back as well. But yelling back feels like it lowers me. And it doesn’t raise anyone up. My theme for the week seems to be: “It takes two to fight. But it only takes one to forgive.” Peaceful protest works. But at the same time one must speak the truth or risk being complicit. Sigh.
Alice, so very, very true. I wrote this ages ago–in the late 1980s, but it still says something to me. I so much wanted to shout back, but didn’t.
I felt you on this one, a hard line to walk and hatred seems to feed on response. I lived through the little word and know how sharp it can land. Great work.
Anna, thank you.
Wow, both powerful and lyrical! I love the last lines especially–makes me think of Sisyphus rolling that stone up the hill. Lovely work.
Oh, wow–thank you.
Susan – reading that this was written decades ago – just made me so sad. Can we have changed so little – maybe gotten worse? But also a call to do what we can even when our arms are heavy. K
Thank you, K. Yes, we need to keep at it.
As you say Susan, this is sadly still relevant. It needs those words for emphasis I think. It grounds the piece is the cruel reality. Very powerful throughout.
Holly, thank you. Sad that it is still so relevant.
Susan, I read this earlier as I was supposed to be leaving to pick up the children from school. There’s so much here, I needed to come back and chew on it some more. You’ve really brought forth the music of a not-so-pretty side of humanity. Besides the relevance as a topic, your structure and form is enviable. Part of me really wishes you would reconsider and read-aloud some day; the other part completely understands why you wouldn’t feel comfortable. Great work.
Jane, wow thank you. Maybe someday I’ll get up the nerve.
Powerful write here. Really well done.
Oh, thank you for saying so.
Nice write and will always be appropriate to tell it like it is as some people will never learn.
Renee, I think you’re right about that.
Powerful poem… hate graffiti is cowardly, coming out at night to spew rubbish that hurts… Strong words…great poem.
Dianne, thank you!
Susan fantastic work! I know that pain of wondering what to do and what to say when we are faced with so much hate. It makes it even harder then the hater spouts off as if they are the only ones that deserve “His” love.
Good to meet your voice!
Delaina–thank you so much! So glad to meet you, and glad you liked my effort.
Wow, hate is so ugly when written isn’t it? I cringed although you wrote it out so well
Thanks, Gretchen. Some things should make us cringe, I think.
perhaps we need to all go out and graffiti our worlds with poems about life and celebration
Oh, I like that idea loads.
…I am familiar with that heavy load in your arms…in more ways than one…this is extremely well done, Susan..
Katy, thank you so much.
The care of “on the half-shell/in the subtext”, which would be a fantastic little pairing of prepositions/prefixes/compound words/and just plain sounds (whatever the context), in this context supports the sense of your moral effort and anticipates your closing line.
Kathy, thanks so much for the insightful comment. So nice to meet you.
P.S. though, I’m not sure I think that word always to be foul. Depends what one thinks of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and other efforts to rescue the body from excessive medical Latin talk.
Ah, good point. I might never get over my prudishness to actually say the word, though.
oh wow…this is really powerful…made my stomach cringe a bit…i always find it difficult to know what to do..but i think like you say.. def. feeling your heavy arms here
Thanks, Claudia. Yes–the cleanup is sometimes difficult. I would prefer to celebrate the raucous joy of street art over this ugliness any day.
Great capture of the essence of thoughtful/meaningful street art. There can be so much more to this art than mere tagging – if only more people got the message.
Thank you so much, Zouxzoux. Great handle you have, by the way.
Great poem, Susan.
Prompted this comment –
Naming is dangerous, but also cheap.
prejudice and hate are prisons,
their clammy paws spray lurid ugliness
on the body of non-consenting city walls,
obscene images, hate messages,
rages uncaged, intrusions,
we witness extrusions ugly as rape,
we see them creeping, spreading
poisonous parasitic fungi on tired urban walls
revealing the jungle and darknesses within.
the message? Hate, discord and despair,
These triplets, their grips cloud vision,
clog hearing and choke reason
as they slowly suck their victims
to ever resounding and noisy hollowness!
Noel, thank you so much for liking this, and your response–what can I say but WOW. The turn of this response rocks, N. The image of hate as something vampiric will stay with me.
Hatred and intolerance often hides behind the guise of Love and God. Scribbling inflammatory remarks and naming names in the guise of street art is pure cowardice.
Well written Susan.
Anna, thank you. I agree that this happens a lot, and it is shameful, shameful. I prefer the honesty of a hate not wrapped in the trappings of faith. I think God hates hate more than we do.
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This is so good. I’m going to have to reblog this
Duncan, thank you. I( am honored.
I don’t reblog much. This was a very special piece of writing. Very very good indeed
Again, thanking you, and now blushing.
Credit where it’s due. Blush if you like. It’s fine by me.
I’m very very offended by unthinking prejudice. I’m not perfect, I can fall foul of this sometimes. But I know I’m doing it, and fight hard to stop myself. But yes, I do judge sometimes on the grounds of nothing at all except my own bias.
I’ll reiterate. Your piece made me sit back, reconsider, and feel small.
Well done me old china.
Bear with me for a second. I need to use the word.
cunt on the half shell
I hated the phrase, loved and was moved by the sentiment. the feeling, the emotion, the outrage
Duncan–thank you!Some things still simmer, 20 years later.
Reblogged this on nobodysreadingme and commented:
Another of my very occasional reblogs.
I think this is simply terrific
I think you are simply terrific for sharing this!
See my earlier comment. This is powerful stuff. Marvellous.
Like yourself, I never EVER use the ‘c’ word. I find it utterly offensive. I’ve nearly had fights over this. And I don’t fight.
It’s simply a truly offensive, indefensible word.
It is. Can’t believe I used it, but I had to,m here.
It’s OK because it’s reported ‘speech’. And the impact would be lost without the sense of outrage. It simply wouldn’t work.
Know what? If you’re doing a reading, it might be a good one to slip in. Make your audience aware of your anger and disgust. I’d listen to that with breathlessly agog
Ah–it might, MIGHT make it into my next reading in a month or two (was supposed to read Wednesday, but had to cancel due to laryngitis). I could certainly deliver that with a lip curl and a shudder.
Reblogged this on cookiedmouse's Blog and commented:
Reblogged – deserves to be reblogged
Goodness, thank you.
Very gritty and real in terms of how some people are
Unfortunate, isn’t it?
Yeah like war it never changes
I do think they are intimately linked. Where are you writing poetry now, Bruce? I get your photos, but no poetry–I think I am not following where you are writing somehow.
I had a break and now I am back at http://inkineticapoetry.wordpress.com/
Yay! I will follow you there!
for me this was a very moving piece filled with conviction and raw emotion written in a way that transported this reader to the time and place you speak of.
Sheila, thank you. I was afraid this poem would be dated, but really it’s not. I only wish things had changed in 20 years for the better.
That kind of graffiti is the main reason I love the cleaning crew. To rarely we see good stuff there. Unfortunately large portions of the Internet are the same or worse. Today this can poem can be translated to some web pages of cowardly anonymous hatred.. Thank you for sharing.
Oh, you are so right, Bjorn–I have seen some of those pages/sites.
A lot of debate around that here in Sweden… In Norway, it’s said it was part of what created Breivik 😦
Oh, how terrible that is! The trouble is, who do you decide to suppress? I think hate speech is dangerous and inflammatory, with deadly results. But can one only suppress certain types of speech?
Powerful, Susan and your words reflect how indignant you are. 🙂
Tanks, C. I AM still indignant, all these years later.
When people turn “God is Love” into a message of hate, then it is not you, but they, who have the problem. And I’m with you on the never-ending job of painting over the ugliness – although I think the real answer is have the ugliness transformed into beauty, instead of trying to hide it.
Tony–very good point. love your comments!
My first thought upon completing the read? “This is a voice of the era.” Without dipping a toe in the pool of maudlin, muddy water, you illustrate social inequity with clarity and personal perspective. You also show us that hatred (fear) is ever-present, but that love, commitment, confidence grow to illuminate its darkness. I love your work.
Kim–what you say here is so beautiful! Thanks for commenting.
I can so hear Natalie Merchant:
Have I been blind
Have I been lost
Inside myself and
My own mind
By what my eyes have seen?
Have I been wrong
Have I been wise
To shut my eyes
And play along
By what my eyes have found
By what my eyes have seen
What they have seen?
I believe these two were written about the same time.